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The Legend of the Waffle

Updated on March 9, 2014

Where did waffles originate?

Woman without mercy with her knight
Woman without mercy with her knight

A Lady and Her Knight

A legend exists dating back to the thirteenth century in England that tells how waffles originated. According to the legend, a crusader returned from his exploits in the middle east and was wearing his armor when he accidentally sat on some freshly baked oat cakes. The crusaders action at first brought grief from the man's wife who had made the oat cakes, but since food was scarce, she told him that he would have to eat them anyway. He spread his butter on the cakes and ate them. His wife was suddenly elated by the way the butter stayed in the imprints from the armor and didn't roll off like they did when she made oat cakes in her usually manner. From that time on, once a week, the crusader would sit on her fresh oat cakes and they would eat them together. The new bread was promptly called "warfres" because of the checkerboard pattern.

Beyond the Legend

The true history of the waffle tells a slightly different story. The ancient Greeks had a flat cake cooked between two metal plates. They called this waffle-like cake "oblelios". During the Middle Ages, Europeans made oblelios as well, sometimes eating them flat form, and sometimes rolled up and cone shaped. It wasn't until the1200s that someone decided to put the design on the plates between which the cakes were baked. The designed type of plates were known as gaufres, a word that refers to the wafer used in communion wafers in the church. However, usually the gaufres tasted better. these gaufres were commonly made with flour such as barley and oats and were not sweetened nor leavened, at least initially and among the poorer classed people. Later, when wealthier classes started eating gaufres honey, milk and eggs were added. In addition, these socialites added patterns more ornate patterns to the plate included religious symbols or the individual's coat of arms.

As time passed, waffles became even more popular and sold by street vendors. Some of these vendors bought licenses allowing them to sell at church bazaars on feast days. Eventually, vendors became so common on feast days that in the 1500s France's King Charles IX regulated them with a decree that vendors needed to be a full six feet from the nearest fellow vendor.

The Dutch also enjoyed waffles.They called them "waffre" which is where we get our current word "waffle". It was from the Dutch that the Pilgrims brought waffles to America. A few years later the Dutch themselves brought waffles into New Amsterdam (Later New York).

Thomas Jefferson reintroduced the popularity of the waffle after he returned from his diplomatic trip to France. He then served them at the White House and had waffle parties which he called "waffle frolics". Guests enjoyed their waffles sweet--with maple syrup, molasses, or honey--or savory. Kidney stew was a popular "gravy" for unsweetened waffles.

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The History of the Waffle Iron

The earliest waffle iron originated in the 14th century. they were two pieces of metal hinged together and placed on a long pole where they were held out over an open fire.

In 1869 the first American patent on waffle irons was granted to Cornelius Swarthout (U. S. Patent 94.043 issued August 24, 1869). It was made of iron and in order to make the waffle, the contraption was placed over the burner of a wood or gas stove.

The first U.S. waffle iron was patented in 1869 by Cornelius Swarthout. It consisted of two hinged cast iron plates that swiveled in an iron collar. The whole apparatus sat on top of the stove. Electric waffle irons didn't come along until July 26, 1911, when General Electric produced the first commercial model.

During the 1939 New York World's Fair, the Belgian Waffle was introduced to the U.S. public. This thicker, raised waffle had been invented in Ghent and was usually served dusted with powdered sugar, however Americans preferred them with whipped cream and fruit topping.

In the mid-1930s, three brothers Frank, Tony and Sam Dorsa invented a machine capable of cranking out thousands and freezing them. Kellogg bought the company in the 1970s and the frozen waffle became a U.S. breakfast staple.

In upcoming years GE and other companies have made the waffle iron more attractive and light weight. They have been made easier to clean especially after teflon was created in 1938 by a young chemist named Dr. Roy Plunkett.

Making Better Waffles

© 2010 Donna Brown


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    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      And Legends are born. . .

    • profile image

      Fox 3 years ago

      The crazy thing is that Thomas Steckbeck is still alive and well today! Well, only because he was a kid who added his name to the wikipedia article as the inventor of the modern waffle. But writers are lazy and his name is now in so many articles (and even a book) that his name will go down in history as the waffle guy anyway

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 4 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      Thanks Kasman, this article was fun to write! I'm glad you could relate to it!

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      I love this story too. My wife and I received a waffle iron for a wedding present. We wanted one because the base we stayed on had a waffle day and so many people would line up to enjoy a waffle at 7 in the morning. Great hub.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Ooooh. I love this story. Who knew? Should've called them squash cakes - oh well, maybe not. Thanks for the interesting history tidbit Donna! Good one. peg

    • profile image

      Donna Brown 6 years ago

      You'll probably not look at waffles the same way again either!

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Well my life is now complete. I know where waffles come from. Thanks so much. Lynda